Charlotte Rae was born Charlotte Rae Lubotsky in 1926, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she was raised on a farm, the middle of two sisters, Beverly and Mimi. Her parents, Esther (Ottenstein) and Meyer Lubotsky, were Russian Jewish immigrants. Rae wanted to be a dramatic actress, but eventually wound up being a comedienne, all because of her stand-up comedy routines. After graduating from high school, she attended Northwestern University, where she met the unfamiliar actress Cloris Leachman,and would be best friends for life. She actually created the role of “Beverly” for Cloris to play on The Facts of Life (1979), all this was after Rae left the show. She dropped out of college and moved to New York City, and began a career as a stage actress, performing in such plays like: “Pickwick”, when she was nominated in 1966 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical and, in 1969, for Best Actress in a Play for “Morning, Noon and Night”. All this was after she co-starred with Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis in Car 54, Where Are You? (1961). She would live there up until 1974, at this time she moved to Los Angeles.
She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her supporting role in the 1975 drama Queen of the Stardust Ballroom (1975). After guest-starring on numerous shows, including Norman Lear’s All in the Family (1971) and Good Times (1974), Lear hired her old friend to co-star on Diff’rent Strokes (1978) as Gary Coleman’s housekeeper, “Edna Garrett”. Within a year, she gained popularity with her character, which eventually led her to having her own series, The Facts of Life (1979). Between Norman Lear and NBC, they gave her the green-light to star in her own show, which focused primarily on a house-lady residing in an all-girls school, which was the exact opposite of “Diff’rent Strokes”. Rae left the show in 1986, despite all the fame she had gained, owing to a health problem, who later returned to the stage, displeasing the show’s producers. In 1992, she was the voice of “Aunt Christine Figg” in Tom and Jerry: The Movie (1992).
In 2000, she starred as “Berthe” in the Paper Mill Playhouse production of “Pippin”. In 2007, she appeared in a cabaret show at the Plush Room in San Francisco for several performances. In the 2008 movie, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008), Rae has a role as an older woman who has a fling with Adam Sandler’s character. On February 18, 2009, she appeared in a small role as “Mrs. Ford” on the “I Heart Mom” episode.
Towards the end of the new millennium, Rae attended the James Stewart Centennial Tribute at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills, California, which was hosted by Robert Wagner. Among the attendees were Ann Rutherford, Shirley Jones, Cora Sue Collins, and Stewart’s daughter, Kelly Stewart. Rae’s older sister, Beverly, died from pancreatic cancer in 1998, while Charlotte’s divorced husband of 35 years, John Strauss, died in 2011, after a long battle of Parkinson’s disease. A pancreatic cancer survivor, around the time after John’s death, she continued to act while making guest appearances everywhere, especially TV Land, where her show, The Facts of Life (1979), won the 2011 award for Pop Culture Icon.
Charlotte died on August 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.
Watch WBBZ-TV, Your Hometown MeTV Station on Channel 67.1 over-the-air; Cable 5 ( check local listings); FiOS 5; Dish 5; DirecTV67